Investigators suspect the duo removed computers from the home of Michael Pratt before he fled the country
When GirlsDoPorn boss Michael Pratt fled the country — avoiding a civil trial that went on without him and federal sex-trafficking charges that followed — he left behind his cat, as well as a house north of Escondido apparently humming with computer equipment, authorities said.
But investigators suggest the computer equipment, which could contain evidence in the prosecution against him, has disappeared.
Brothers Fredrick and Efrain Jimenez have been charged with one count each of obstructing sex-trafficking enforcement, after sheriff’s deputies found them removing items from the home Pratt had been living in before abandoning it, according to a complaint unsealed in San Diego federal court last week.
The brothers appeared before a magistrate judge on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty.
They are the latest to be charged in connection with the case that has gained international attention.
Pratt, 36, and Matthew “Ben” Wolfe, 37, described as owners of the websites GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys, are accused of coercing young women from around the country into filming pornographic videos.
According to the FBI, the women answered Craigslist ads seeking models but were then informed they would be paid up to $5,000 a day to shoot erotic videos in posh San Diego hotels. The women said they were assured that the videos would not be posted online but would be sent to overseas collectors for private viewing.
The complaint alleges women were plied with alcohol and sometimes marijuana, then pushed into signing documents that gave the company full rights to distribution of the videos. Several women reported that another co-defendant, porn performer and producer Ruben “Jonathan” Andre Garcia, assaulted them before or after the filming.
The videos were then posted online, and viewers made a hobby out of identifying the women and engaging in a campaign of humiliation and harassment, including posting to the women’s social media and notifying co-workers and family members.
Pratt is also charged with production of child pornography and sex trafficking of a minor for the filming of a 16-year-old girl, according to the complaint.
Also charged are Valorie Moser, an administrative assistant; Amberlyn Dee Nored, who was paid to convince prospective talent that the videos would remain private; and videographer Theodore “Teddy” Gyi.
The federal charges hit in mid-October, in the middle of the civil trial against Pratt, Wolfe and Garcia, who are being sued by 22 women identified only as “Jane Does.” Arrests were made. But by then, Pratt, a citizen of New Zealand, had already skipped town.
On Oct. 13 — three days after the federal complaint was unsealed and the first round of arrests were made — sheriff’s deputies were called to the Hidden Meadows community. A neighbor had reported seeing two unknown individuals emptying the contents of a home on Cerveza Baja Drive into a U-Haul trailer, according to an affidavit filed by the U.S. Marshals Service.
It was the home that Pratt had been living in before his disappearance, investigators say.
Deputies found the Jimenez brothers there. They told the deputies that a friend named “Mark” had borrowed their property and that he had given the brothers a key to the house and asked them to remove their personal property, the affidavit states.
Mark is a nickname that Pratt used, according to investigators.
The brothers told deputies that they had mostly removed furniture, televisions and a camping tent. They denied removing any computers or other electronics, although the deputies noticed in the trailer multiple boxes and small portable air conditioners — “often used to keep electronic equipment cool to ensure these expensive pieces of equipment do not overheat and malfunction,” the affidavit adds.
The brothers refused to answer further questions. The deputies took pictures of the interior of the trailer, without searching further, and left.
The brothers weren’t the only ones who’d been in the house.
Before Pratt left the country, he hired a pet-sitting service to care for his cat daily, according to investigators.
Law enforcement officers interviewed two of those pet sitters in November. The sitters said that when they began caring for the cat in July, the home had multiple computers and various computer equipment, all of which appeared to have been running, the affidavit states. But soon after Oct. 13, they said they noticed all the equipment had been removed, with only some wires remaining, the affidavit says.
The investigation later revealed that Fredrick Jimenez, 29, was an employee of GirlsDoPorn from July 2018 to February 2019, according to the affidavit.
Investigators have already seized several computers, hard drives, disks, DVDs and tapes from the GirlsDoPorn office at the Spreckels Building on Broadway in downtown San Diego.
While the criminal cases are proceeding in federal court, the civil case in San Diego County Superior Court remains pending. The bench trial ended Nov. 25, although Judge Kevin Enright has yet to issue a verdict.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.